How Nneka Ogwumike Is Championing Gender Equality On And Off The Court
By Kenneth J. Williams Jr. For(bes) The Culture
Since being drafted number one overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft, Nneka Ogwumike has been making waves as an advocate for gender equality in sports. Ogwumike, the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) and player for the Los Angeles Sparks, has teamed up with Michelob ULTRA for their 2022 Super Bowl campaign.
The campaign comes on the heels of Michelob ULTRA’s commitment of $100 million to champion gender equality in the field of sports. Ogwumike has used her platform to create change by way of ensuring women are adequately supported and represented, on and off the court, so it comes as no surprise that she is teaming up with the well-known brand for its latest campaign.
For(bes) The Culture caught up with the 2016 WNBA Champion to chat about her latest collaboration with Michelob ULTRA, the women who inspire her, and the importance of gender egalitarianism on and off the court.
For(bes) The Culture: Last year, it was announced that Michelob ULTRA will commit $100 million to support gender equality in sports. Why was it important for you to collaborate with them for their 2022 Super Bowl campaign?
Nneka Ogwumike: It was important because of just that. I think as athletes or individuals in sports and entertainment, when we’re sought after, oftentimes we can get mixed up in the individualistic nature of these opportunities, and rightly so. I’m proud that I’m in a Super Bowl ad; I’ve never been in one before. It’s a huge spotlight and a huge stage for sports. Most importantly, I’m happy and excited that someone that is me, that looks like me, that does what I do will be on TV for other young aspirers who resonate with any part of me.
For(bes) The Culture: What was it like filming the spot with your peers in the sports industry such as Peyton Manning, Alex Morgan, Brooks Kopeka, and Jimmy Butler?
Ogwumike: I’m still kind of star-struck that it happened. My shooting day was with Peyton. I had never met him before and I didn’t realize how tall he was but so, so sweet. We were able to connect, both because he has his Tennessee ties, and I played with Candace Parker who was a great Lady Bull, but especially because he and his brother were both drafted number one, and my sister and I were both drafted number one, so it was cool to be able to connect with him in that way.
For(bes) The Culture: As the WNBPA president and a champion for gender equality in sports, what recommendations would you make to other global companies looking to support gender equality in sports like Michelob ULTRA?
Ogwumike: I think it’s interesting when it comes to the conversation around gender equality and equity. There’s a question I get all the time, serving as president of our Player’s Association and it’s “What do people need to do to invest?” You have Michelob ULTRA, who came out and said, “We are going to do this.” Then, six months later, there’s going to be a Super Bowl ad that, that reflects exactly what they said. A lot of times, the answer is just to do it. To do it, you have to believe it, and that’s why I’m so happy to be a part of a brand that represents my values in that way. When it comes to investing, it’s not just about money. It’s investing time, resources, accessibility, visibility, access, opportunity, and that’s what I’m directly experiencing being aligned with Michelob ULTRA, and I hope to see it done with so many other organizations, especially for women in sports.
For(bes) The Culture: Who are some women that have inspired you to champion gender equality on and off the court?
Ogwumike: Individuals like Serena (Williams), even me being able to play with people that inspired me, like Candace Parker, and obviously Billie Jean King, that’s someone who everyone should know. As women in this world, we’re born into politics merely by our existence, and so always having to say something is our thing. We’re always outspoken, and at times, demonized for it. But, the women that don’t care keep doing it and understand that they’re saying things and doing things not just to change their lives and experience, but most especially to change those that come after them. I’d have to say that it’s all about these strong women that I get to work with and I get to meet. I think also too, existing unapologetically, which I truly believe Serena does, is one way to do it so powerfully. I love being inspired by women like that because I think we’re past the point of needing to always explain ourselves.
For(bes) The Culture: At the end of last year, you said that you trained harder than you ever had before and you really felt that season was to focus on yourself. Can you talk further about that?
Ogwumike: There was just a lot that I was carrying that I prioritized more than keeping my cup full. Everyone knows you can’t pour from an empty cup, and I felt as though that all kind of came to a head this past year when I experienced my injury after training harder than I ever had before. I had a lot of self-reflection, and I was able to sit with myself, and not always be that strong friend, not always be that strong person or the one that people always look to for answers, and rely on people to support me. That allowed me to understand that being vulnerable in that way is not necessarily a weakness. And, I actually tweeted this a while ago, but seeking help is sexy. It’s not a weakness, so being able to kind of tap into that space, and now entering this season, I’m really focusing on myself in a way that I hope also resonates with others. I want people to get to know me outside of all of the roles that I hold. To know my personality, know my interests, know my likes, know my creativity, while also still leading and fulfilling the roles that I do. It took kind of getting knocked down and not knowing how to get up for me to get there, and I’m really happy about it.
For(bes) The Culture: You have a long list of accomplishments under your belt from being the #1 overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft to being the president of the WNBA Players Association. What would you say has been one of the most fulfilling moments in your career?
Ogwumike: Definitely signing the 2020 CBA Agreement, the collective bargaining agreement, without a doubt. It was historical in ways that we didn’t realize until after. It set the tone for exactly what we’re sitting here talking about – equity in sports. To be a part of that was just so fulfilling, but my most favorite part was getting to have deep, intimate, tough, and even revealing and empowering conversations with the women of the league, and getting people to understand that we are doing this for us, by us, for generations to come.